Are You Buying into These Career Myths?

by Jennifer Miller on March 29, 2012

in Personal Effectiveness, Women of HR

Most of my ruminations on women and career tend to land over at the Women of HR site. This week, the site is wrapping up a great Women of HR Career Series. My post on the Four Myths of Self-Employment was featured last week. Following the myths theme, here’s a little “bonus track” to go along with the series. It’s loosely based on the reader comments from the article Three Impressions That Keep Women from Advancing by Sally Williamson.

Myth #1: There is a universal definition of career success.

The reality is that there are as many definitions of success as there are women in this world. This is why workplace career paths and formalized mentoring programs often fall short—because they are based on somebody else’s definition of what it takes to succeed at one’s company. The truly successful woman will be the one who knows her inner values and external talents and figures out a way to capitalize on them within her workplace structure.

 Myth #2: Success = a high-ranking title.

 I recently had lunch with a colleague who was in a career crisis. Her company supports a career “lattice” – allowing workers to increase their pay via lateral moves as well as ascending into the ranks of management. However, her boss is very old school and saw my friend’s choice to make a lateral move as a sign that she was stepping off the path of intense career development. She asked me, “Have I just committed career suicide?” In this case, it’s possible that she did. Regrettably, there are still many pockets of society that equate a high-ranking title with career success. There is a subtext to the message that says, “You aren’t a success if you don’t aspire to a ‘C’-level title.”

 Myth #3: Women will advance their career with a mentor.

For years, companies have realized that women weren’t getting access to mentors—so many organizations ramped up mentoring programs. And those programs worked. . .to an extent. According to research conducted by Christine Silva and Nancy Carter of the Catalyst Group, many women have more access to mentors than male counterparts, yet a pay and promotion gap still exist.  Silva and Carter describe a unique form of mentoring: sponsorship. Sponsors are the most senior-level leaders in an organization who will advocate for a high-potential employee. Mentors tend to be mid-level managers who will show a colleague the ropes.   

My advice to women seeking to advance their careers: build relationships with both mentors and sponsors. Mentors will help you learn the daily ins-and-outs of your organization: how to get things done, where the unspoken power sources are. Sponsors will help highlight your talents to the people with the power to help advance your career.

One specific suggestion: make your interests known—directly to senior leaders in your organization. Reach out to them and ask for a 15 minute meeting to learn more about their area of operation or expertise. The women that I know who have the most satisfying careers are those who took the initiative to make known their career objectives—regardless of the job title they aspired to. Sponsors are the ones who know in advance about organizational changes. If an executive knows you want to make a move, say, from internal corporate communications to the newly formed social media team, she’ll be in a better position to recommend your skills.

Question: Do you see these myths being perpetuated in your workplace?

If so, how have you worked to make these challenges a “non-issue” in your career advancement?


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